Zalgirus Kaunas picked up its first win of the season in style by dominating Asseco Prokom Sopot 79-68 on Thursday evening. The Lithuanian champs ended an 11-game losing streak dating back to last season and fueled their Top 16 hopes by taking the potential tiebreaker from Prokom. Zalgiris now trails Prokom and SLUC Nancy by only one win for fourth place in Group B and hosts the French champs in their first game after the winter break. The keys to victory for Zalgiris were an all-around game that included excellent three-point shooting (11 for 20) and excellent interior defense (11 blocked shots). Zalgiris dominated early through Loren Woods and built an 18-7 lead before Pat Burke came off the bench to rescue Prokom. The Polish champs scored 12 straight points bridging the first and second periods and eventually took a slim lead before Dainius Salenga made it 37-35 at the half. Back-to-back triples by Paulius Jankunas and Arturas Milaknis – the second beating the buzzer – gave the hosts a 63-54 lead at the end of the third quarter and a Salenga steal, slam and free throw gave the hosts a 15-point lead early in the fourth as Zalgiris wrapped up its first win. Jankunas paced Zalgiris offensively with a Euroleague career-high 23 points, Salenga added a season-high 20 points, while Jonas Maciulis had 11 and Mantas Kalnietis finished with 10 points and 5 assists. On the defensive end, Loren Woods was the star with 14 rebounds and 7 blocked shots. Burke carried Prokom with 18 points and 20 rebounds, Dan Ewing scored 16 and David Logan had 14 in defeat.
Adam Hrycaniuk opened the scoring for Prokom with a basket on the offensive glass before Salenga answered for the hosts. The teams traded baskets for a few possessions before the hosts found their rhythm and took charge. Kalnietis orchestraded the offense as Zalgiris went ona 9-0 charge to take an 18-7 lead. Prokom took a much-needed timeout and had coach Tomas Pacesas managed to calm his troops. Ewing broke the Prokom drought with a three-pointer and Koko Archibong added a basket in transition as the visitors came back. Kalnietis stretched the Zalgiris lead to 21-12, but Ewing nailed a three at the end of the period to make it 23-17.
Three baskets by Burke and a triple from Logan made up a 0-12 Prokom run as Pacesas’s men got right back in the game. Salenga soon tied the game as a seesaw battle developed. The period would see the score tied five times before Salenga put Zalgiris ahead 35-32 on a basket-plus-foul. Logan and Jankunas traded baskets before Logan drew Prokom within 37-35 at halftime.
Logan tied the game on Prokom’s first possession of the second half, but Kalnietis stepped up for the hosts with a triple and then a slam on the break. Prokom came right back through Burker and Ewing to tie the score at 42-42. Kalnietis killed the Prokom momentum when after losing the ball to Ewing, he followed the play for a stunning blocked shot from behind to prevent Prokom from going ahead. Woods then scored at the other end and Salenga soon frilled a three to make it 49-44. Ronnie Burrell and Ewing cut the gap to 2, but triples from Zygimantas Janivicius, Jankunas and Milaknis – the last one beating the third-period buzzer – put Zalgiris on top 63-54 with just one period remaining.
Prokom looked determined to get back as the fourth quarter began, but found an equally motivated Zalgiris team waiting. Eurelijus Zukauskas’s block of Logan and another Jankunas triple gave Zalgiris a 12-point advantage and after a few more missed shots for Prokom, Salenga stripped Ewing and darted to the hoop for a slam, foul and free throw that ignited the passionate home fans. Przemyslaw Zamojski fought for a three-point play for Prokom, but soon Jankunas hit from downtown to make it 74-57. Prokom continued to fight for points, but Zalgiris seemed to have an answer at every turn. Maciulis buried a three at the top of the key to stretch the lead to 19 and end any doubt as to the winner, allowing the fans to applaud their heroes in the last few minutes.
Thursday, December 18, 2008